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Chapter 24 : Of Blood and Custom
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‘It’s a bit bare, but it’s at short notice,’ said Ron, gesturing across the flat the DMLE had mercifully arranged for Eva.
‘It’s fine. I don’t need creature comforts. A bed and a kitchen and Floo and I’m fine.’ Eva looked at the threadbare furnishings, the plain floorboards, and decided she didn’t care if it was a bit cold. She was out of Ginny Potter’s house, and that was what mattered. ‘So, that briefing.’
Ron glanced to Albus. ‘I thought I’d let you settle in.’
‘Not necessary.’ Eva moved to the window that had blinds, not curtains, and clasped her hands behind her back. She knew she was lapsing into the old body language she’d assumed as a merc before a job: professional, detached. Old habits loaned the illusion of control. ‘I’m here to work.’
Albus sat on the nearest hard-backed chair. ‘She’s got a point.’
Ron rubbed the back of his neck and nodded, also pulling up a seat. ‘I suppose. And we’ll be mobilising to Macedonia soon.’
‘Taking the fight to the Council in Greece?’
‘Getting into the country’s difficult; they’re setting up detection wards on all the major Muggle transport routes and of course Apparition and Portkeys are as much a pain as ever. There’ll be hiking, and we’re meeting up with locals who want to fight, equipping and training them. It’s a start. I’ve not had time for the Malfoy hunt.’ Ron grimaced as he reached inside his robes and pulled out a folder that looked too large for the pockets.
‘He might be an important man,’ said Eva, ‘but he is only one man.’
‘And chasing him doesn’t necessarily stop people from dying.’ Ron opened the folder and put it on the coffee table. ‘We had no idea of his affiliations until Prometheus Thane pointed the finger at him. Thane was under a Veritaserum as brewed by Nathalie Lockett, pretty much the best potioneer in the business, so we’re taking it seriously.’
Albus looked up at Eva. ‘Has Thane ever demonstrated any ability to bypass Veritaserum?’
‘There’s only one trick to bypass Veritaserum. It’s called “don’t drink Veritaserum”.’
Ron nodded. ‘He said Malfoy got involved with the Council a long time ago, in its formative years. Back then it was a group of idealists and surviving Grindelwald followers trying to get traction by ranting about the “old ways”, which got more of a following abroad than it did in Britain. The Second War did a good job of purging such bastards or driving them underground; it’s why Britain’s never really been at risk of direct assault by the Council of Thorns. Lethe strikes and Hogwarts aside.’
‘Pretty big aside,’ Albus pointed out.
‘Hogwarts was a test-bed and the Council of Thorns’ coming-out parade,’ said Eva. ‘Britain’s resilience in recent years to dark magic and pureblood supremacist movements is why it was selected. If you can be hit, anyone can. And everyone was hit in the Lethe assaults.’
‘Yeah,’ said Ron. ‘Anyway, Malfoy clearly didn’t let go of his old opinions that much, and so he got tangled up with the Council of Thorns back when they were smaller. His company has enough international interests that he probably met them when out in South America, or the like, which is why we never picked up on it. At the least, he was involved with the Council during the Phlegethon Crisis, because by Thane’s reports it was Draco Malfoy who ordered him to let the Resurrection Stone go.’
Eva felt Albus’ eyes on her again, and she shrugged. ‘I only suspected Prometheus wasn’t beaten by Scorpius. Prometheus isn’t easily beaten - Raskoph struggled against him.’
‘We don’t have much intel on what, if anything, Malfoy had to do with Eridanos,’ Ron continued. ‘Maybe he was part of the bankrolling. We do know he was the one who sold you all out in Venice. Scorpius wrote to him before you returned.’
Now Eva could feel Albus specifically averting her eyes. ‘Which makes Ager Sanguinis odd,’ she said, turning from the window. ‘They openly implicated Draco Malfoy as an associate, but they still used his son for the creation of Lethe. I was under the impression they thought it would be more easily incubated in a pureblood, but what about Matt? Selena?’
‘There are purebloods,’ said Ron, ‘and then there are purebloods. Apparently. Like, you could trace Scorpius’ lineage back to the Norman Conquest and everyone in that tree would be a pureblood - though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s the odd, scrubbed over exception. The Rourkes? I don’t really do this lineage thing, but I know reputations. While every Rourke in living memory’s been born to a wizarding family, one of them’s going to have married some girl whose grandfather was a Muggle, you know?’
‘So if blood mattered, even ideologically, Selena wasn’t the best choice,’ said Albus. ‘But Matt? His family’s pretty old.’
Ron shrugged. ‘Then maybe they risked Draco Malfoy’s son just to bully him under control. Scorpius makes good leverage.’
‘And Thane said that it was Draco as well as Raskoph who ordered Project Osiris, the recovery of the Chalice and the resurrection of Scorpius,’ said Albus. ‘Maybe Raskoph was after Lethe while Draco was after getting Scorpius back.’
Eva frowned. ‘When I was in contact with Prometheus during the Chalice hunt, he implied he took his orders from someone other than Raskoph. The two never liked each other. I wasn’t very surprised when I found out Draco Malfoy was in the Council; it explained why Prometheus wanted to avoid killing the Five in general and Scorpius in particular - though he definitely tried to kill you in Tomar,’ she added, nodding to Albus.
He grimaced. ‘I remember. But if Thane’s loyalties were truly to Draco Malfoy, not Joachim Raskoph, I don’t understand risking Scorpius’ life.’
‘“Loyalty” is an awkward word to use for Prometheus Thane,’ said Eva. ‘I don’t think I’ve met anyone he’s truly deferential to. He’s a professional, but he knows his worth and it makes him arrogant. I can’t see him respecting a man like Draco Malfoy; he wouldn’t want to march to the beat of his drum. I think it’s possible that he risked Scorpius with, like Raskoph, the intention of leverage. To make them equals.’
‘It would explain why he brought Scorpius with him when he left the Council. Dangerous game to play. But, back to Malfoy, it makes it clear that he’s not exactly ruling supreme in the Council of Thorns,’ said Ron.
‘Not if Raskoph, outranking him, wanted to use and even kill his son. Not if Thane, working for him more directly, was also willing to manipulate and exploit his son,’ Albus mused.
‘One thing’s clear,’ said Ron. ‘Malfoy knew when the Saint Annard mission went down, because he as gone by the time Thane implicated him. He knew we’d be coming for him.’
‘Is it possible,’ said Eva, ‘that he’s just been killed by the Council? He’s been cut off from his resources, and it seems like they was using him more than following him. He likely knows a lot about their operations. He might be a loose end they’ve tied off. Permanently.’
‘We have no indication he’s dead,’ said Albus. She suspected he was being stubborn because he didn’t like the implications, rather than disagreeing with her logic. ‘So we have to get into where he might bloody be now.’
‘There are two options,’ said Ron wryly. ‘Either he’s in hiding with the Council or he’s in hiding from the Council.’
‘Either one takes money,’ said Eva.
‘His accounts have been frozen or are in Scorpius’ hands - and yes, we’re monitoring Scorpius’ spending,’ said Ron shamelessly. ‘No activity we can’t account for.’
‘He’s a rich man.’ She shrugged. ‘He’ll have hidden money in all sorts of places. But there’ll be a paper trail - look, he could be anywhere in the world. We can ask our various contacts, but until someone hears or sees something, we have to track him through infrastructure.’
‘I’ve gone through his company,’ said Ron. ‘I’ve gone through his ex-wife. Every scrap of money, account or project or holding, that they know of, is accounted for.’
‘What about the companies he secretly bought out for the Lethe smuggling? He had to have diverted funds for that. Presumably he hid his runaway funds in the same way,’ said Eva.
‘The buyouts were overseen by the Ministry; I’ve had their records of the background checks and the entire oversight process.’ Ron shrugged. ‘Not found a thing.’
‘They obviously can’t have been that competent,’ Eva said, ‘seeing as they were tricked.’ She looked at Albus. ‘I say that’s where we start. If we know how Draco Malfoy obfuscated his wealth that time, at the least we’ll find out all manner of his secrets and illicit dealings. And I expect that if we follow the money, we’ll find him.’
‘There is the possibility,’ said Albus, ‘that if he gets offered a deal, he’ll talk in exchange for protection.’
‘It’s a family habit,’ said Ron with a curled lip. ‘I reckon Scorpius is a good bloke, but I’d happily fire the rest of his bloody family into the moon.’
‘Speaking of,’ said Eva, ‘where’s his mother?’
‘Headed for the South Africa relief. Contactable by Floo. You think she knows something?’
‘I don’t know. I got a vibe off her two years ago. She’s got secrets.’
‘Every investigator needs to trust their gut.’ Ron got to his feet. ‘I’ll leave you with the file, which covers a lot of the financial checks and questioning of his associates we did, but they were all dead ends. If you want to check the Ministry buyouts, the paperwork’s in there, but you may have to go to the source to double-check their work.’
‘They’ll love us for that,’ drawled Albus.
He nodded to them both. ‘Good hunting.’
Eva watched him leave, then turned to Albus. ‘I won’t lie. When you said you needed help, I assumed you were closer to blasting people with wands than going through background checks.’
‘So was I,’ Albus admitted. ‘But what can I say, you have a devious mind.’
She shrugged. ‘I wasn’t just hired as muscle. We should see about getting in touch with the Ministry -’
‘No,’ said Albus. ‘If we want to find about the buyouts, the companies he bought, the smuggling process, then we need to go to the person who blew the whistle on this in the first place.’
‘You mean Gabriel Doyle and that newspaper editor?’
‘I mean the person who put them on that in the first place.’ His lips thinned. ‘Selena.’
‘I was supposed to be done with this place,’ said Selena, except she was sat on wet grass under lashing rain in a gloomy, foggy graveyard, and she knew deep down that she would never be done with this place. Nobody had yet removed Scorpius Malfoy’s gravestone. It loomed near her, a vicious reminder of life and its twists and turns, right next to the resting place of the earthly remains of Methuselah Jones.
Her hair hung limp across her face, and dimly she was aware she was shivering. She didn’t care; couldn’t care. Let the rain fall and the wind howl; there was no place which mattered on this Earth. Not more than here.
She stared at the gravestone, stared at the name etched in the rock with all the permanency of death, and tried very hard to not resent the ongoing reminder that was Scorpius Malfoy’s name so nearby. But it wasn’t as if she needed to concentrate. She’d run out of things to say here, run out of thoughts, even with her father’s words hammering through her heart, even with all the roiling anger and betrayal inside her.
They were new things to bring to Methuselah’s grave, but she didn’t want to come here and talk to him. She just wanted to come here and sit in silence with the one person who had needed her all the time. The one person who had been afraid she would leave him.
The wind whipped soaked hair into her face, the howling chill slicing through her clothes to bite to the bone, and almost drowned out the voice rolling across the graveyard. ‘You’re going to die of exposure out here.’
There were several people she’d thought might come after her. Some were more likely than others. She had never imagined the first would be Eva Saida.
It was an instinct to pounce to her feet, to go for her wand, but she slipped and fell to her knees in the mud. Through the veil of her matted hair she could see Eva, tall and still in the lashing rain. Selena’s lip curled. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’
‘Looking for you,’ said Eva flatly.
‘Matt sent for backup -’
‘No, Albus and I came to your house to see you. Only we heard from your housemates that you’d gone. Albus went to see Matt. I came here.’ Eva tromped forward. ‘In part because Miranda Travers implied Albus might not be who you’d want to see right now.’
Selena clambered upright, ignoring the extended hand. ‘So you’re a much better option -’
‘I’m an impersonal option.’ Eva let her hand fall, impassive.
‘What do you even bloody want from me; I don’t know anything about where Draco Malfoy’s gone -’
‘But you know more than anyone about Draco Malfoy’s corporate buy-outs to facilitate the smuggling of Lethe. I need more information on it, because it might lead to Malfoy’s resources and thus to Malfoy.’ Eva looked her up and down. ‘But now is clearly not the time.’
‘No,’ Selena growled. ‘It is bloody not -’
‘So you should come in out of the rain and then we’ll talk later.’
‘What if I don’t want to talk? What if I don’t want to be on-call for everyone’s bullshit the moment they decide they need me?’
‘Ah, I realise why you’re out here and why you’re upset.’
‘You don’t know me.’
‘I spent a good deal of time observing - and underestimating - you. I do have quite a grasp -’
Pain had turned to tension had turned to nausea in her gut, but it flashed back to white hot rage at Eva’s impassive reaction, and so Selena pounced. She went for her wand even as she tried to tackle Eva, and so the confused, angry attack was never going to work. Eva simply side-stepped and, easy, as breathing, flipped Selena over to crack her back down into the mud.
The world spun as breath was knocked out of Selena’s lungs, and she gasped for air as Eva stepped back, wand in hand. ‘I am not your enemy. Not in this.’
‘In other things?’
‘I don’t want to be your enemy at all. But I know better than to ask for forgiveness.’
‘Oh,’ snarled Selena, rolling onto her hands and knees, and only as she saw the mud rising between her fingers, felt the rain lashing on the back of her neck, did she realise she had to be an absolute state. She didn’t care. ‘You know you were a psycho-murderer; I guess that makes it all better.’
‘I’m not talking about this.’
‘Why?’ Selena rose only to her knees, tilting her head back as if the rain could wash away the pain along with the mud. ‘Because I’ll be right?’
‘Because you’re not angry at me.’
‘I am. I’m just angry at lots of things right now. Did you come to talk some sense into me? Because you can fuck off.’
Eva sighed. ‘I came to find you. And then to try to stop you from catching pneumonia. And then to dodge your attack. But combat fatigue isn’t something to be ashamed of -’
‘I am not ashamed,’ Selena thundered. ‘I am furious and I am tired.’
‘If you think those people,’ said Eva, ‘are taking you for granted, then you didn’t see them when they came to Moscow. They were lost and they were broken, but the one thing they could agree on was that they had to find you.’ She stepped forward, mud squelching underfoot. ‘You have always kept them honest, rational. Since I met you, you have been the voice of reason, the heart.’
Selena really didn’t want to cry in front of Eva Saida. But her throat collapsed with the wave of rising emotion, and so she didn’t get her wish, bursting into tears and doubling over in the mud and rain before the gravestone of Methuselah Jones, a man killed by the conspiracy Eva had worked for. ‘I don’t want to be their heart any more. I don’t want to be picked up and discarded…’
She heard Eva mutter an oath in Arabic, and then there was a firm hand at her shoulder, awkward but sincere. ‘I am the last person to help you,’ came the honest words. ‘But they saved you -’
‘When it’s life or death, they’re there. When it’s the aches and pains of everyday bloody life…’
‘Trust is - trust is hard.’ Eva’s voice now sounded strained, pained. ‘I don’t want to tell you what you should do, because I don’t know and I’m in no position to guess. I do know you should come in from the rain.’
Selena slumped, burying her face in her muddy hands. ‘I don’t want to go home,’ she mumbled. ‘I don’t know where I want to be…’
‘Okay. Well.’ Eva tried to haul her upright, and by now Selena was too far gone to care or fight back. ‘How about you come to a place where your family isn’t there, where Matthias Doyle isn’t there, and where I can make Albus Potter keep his distance. Start with a shower, and then we’ll talk work, hm?’
‘Work. Right.’ She didn’t have a better idea than to keep being pathetic at Methuselah Jones’ grave, and at least this alternative didn’t require making decisions. ‘Fine. Shower.’
‘And try to not die,’ Eva muttered, slinging an arm around her and half-steering, half-carrying her towards the graveyard gates.
Selena let her, stumbling and staggering with her limbs weakened by grief and probably the biting cold, letting the continuous murmured curses in Arabic wash over her. Knowing she was being such a pain in the arse was oddly comforting, but still she couldn’t help one squirming curiosity within her. ‘Saida?’
‘How do you know Al isn’t going to just discard you into prison once he’s got what he needs off you?’
There was a long silence before Eva answered, her voice throaty. ‘I don’t know. If you can prove it, it’s not trust, and you can’t prove a damn thing about people. Besides…’ Another long silence. ‘If I can help him along the way, it’s worth it.’
‘Worth being discarded? Or worth the uncertainty?’
‘We need someone,’ said Nejem, ‘who’s better than any of us at rituals and arcano-theoretics in general.’
Matt gritted his teeth and tried to not think of Rose, who had always been the one to handle such on their expeditions. Though at least he wasn’t thinking about Selena, who was God-knew-where and under no circumstances wanting to talk to him. ‘We will,’ he conceded, looking at the papers pinned up on the wall of his warehouse office. Because he could think about work, and do something good instead of standing around dolefully. ‘But in the meantime, we need to know more about the Chalice in general.’
‘We’ve got Thane’s notes, Lockett’s notes, and our own analysis.’ Nejem handed him a folder. ‘None of it’s looking promising.’
‘Lockett seemed convinced we shouldn’t destroy the Chalice. Thane is convinced we have to destroy the Chalice.’ Matt brought up his clunky metal hand to nudge the folder open, and glared at Nejem when he reached out to help. ‘Start with Lockett’s notes. Was there any indication there was another way?’
‘She looked. Hard. And she brought us a lot more knowledge of Lethe than we had, which is valuable, because that helps us understand the ways in which the Chalice is powering it.’
Matt flicked through pages. ‘Almost. It’s almost like the Chalice is connecting Lethe to the Otherworld.’ His eyes flashed. ‘I get it. Phlegethon was made on the site of Harry Potter’s death in the Forbidden Forest. Eridanos was made on similar ritual sites all over the world. But once they used up what was made on those sites, that was it. Limited dosage.’
‘But with Lethe, the creators have got a permanent connection, through the Chalice, to the power-source. It’s like a permanent version of those rituals,’ said Nejem. ‘Lethe is feeding off the Otherworld itself for the necromantic energies.’
‘But this means that if we cut Lethe off from the power source, then they can’t infect anyone else. The Inferi won’t even be infectious any more.’
‘And might die completely. Might.’
Matt nodded, heart thudding in his chest at the implications. ‘So severing the connection might not be possible, because Lethe is already - shit! I know why we have to destroy the Chalice.’ Nejem stared at him, and he tossed the folder onto his desk, grinning. ‘It’s not about the Chalice, it’s about the Chalice being a constant bridge! Lethe isn’t using the Chalice itself, it’s just going through the door the Chalice makes with its very presence.’
Nejem’s eyes lit up. ‘So if we destroy the Chalice, it closes the bridge to the Otherworld, and that cuts off its power!’
Nejem paused. ‘So how do we destroy it?’
Matt pursed his lips. ‘That,’ he said, ‘is an excellent question.’
There was a knock at the door, and Lowsley stuck his head in. ‘Um. Matt? Albus Potter’s here to see you.’
Matt had no idea why Lowsley would know this to be awkward. Perhaps he was just feeding off the tension in the air with unusual astuteness. He let out a deep breath. ‘Show him in.’ Making this operation a by-the-book Ministry research project had really killed his father’s secrecy. Then again, Matt could put up with his father’s discontent so long as he was a free man to be angry.
Albus was square-shouldered when he strode into the office, and neither Nejem nor Lowsley stuck around. ‘Hey.’
Matt lifted his eyes, pursing his lips. ‘Al.’
Albus watched him for a moment, then sighed. ‘I’m sorry -’
‘If this is about my hand -’
‘It’s not. I mean, it is. But I was coming here for a reason and now I hear that reason’s not really necessary…’
Matt narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re babbling.’
Albus grimaced. He moved for the chair across from Matt and rested his hands on the back of it. ‘I was looking for Selena -’
His throat tightened, worry and guilt squirming away. ‘She’s not here and I don’t know where -’
‘Eva found her, they’re together. Apparently she was quite a state.’
‘I hope you didn’t come here to lecture me -’
Albus straightened. ‘Why would I -’
‘I know I’ve fucked up -’
‘Matt!’ Albus raised his hands. ‘Eva found her. I thought you’d want to know. That’s it.’
Matt stopped and turned to his wall-chart, the corkboard of notes and scribbles and diagrams he’d hope, hope, hope would transform into a means of destroying the Lethe plague forever and justify all of his hard work, sacrifices, stupidity. His jaw tightened. ‘Why did you want Selena?’
‘The corporate buy-outs Draco Malfoy was doing. Eva’s pointed out - it’s a lead.’ Matt could feel Albus’ eyes on his back, and still he didn’t turn. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I lost my hand to Joachim Raskoph and these days I can just about pick up a cup -’
‘You were brave as hell and I’ve been an idiot.’
Albus’ voice was low, but it was a small office. Matt stayed stock still for long seconds, and drew a deep breath before he turned, seeing for once the big, well-meaning guy he’d travelled the world with. Not the angry arsehole he’d staged a rescue mission with. ‘I couldn’t be there for everyone, Al.’
Albus blinked. ‘I don’t -’
‘Rose. Selena. You left, and you had your own pain, but I - damn it, Al, I couldn’t carry them both!’
He stepped away with a jolt. ‘I’m not saying you should have.’
‘Selena pulled back and Rose was so raw with pain that I went to her instead of chasing… and that left Selena alone.’ Matt slumped onto his chair. ‘And I knew it was wrong, but I let myself be blinded, and then she was abducted and I had to find her, I had to - I had to make up for it, but she’s right, what does it fucking matter if I can save her life if I can’t be there when she’s here?’
Albus was staring like he’d just been catapulted into a world of problems he was neither prepared nor equipped to handle. ‘What happened between you two?’
Matt’s jaw tightened. ‘She remembered that everyone left her by the wayside when it was convenient. And that this included me. And decided that she was sick of indulging it, and I didn’t have a good answer.’
Albus pulled up the chair, movements rather careful and gentle for such a big guy. ‘I’m… not sure any of us have done right by each other. Not one hundred percent. But I think it’s possible you’ve come closer than anyone else.’
‘I hurt her -’
‘We’ve all hurt each other. Look…’ Albus sighed. ‘I’ve known Selena a long time. And I grant you, most of that time, I didn’t really know her. Because she is so good at putting on masks and false fronts that I think she even tricks herself a lot of the time. And I don’t know what that’s about, and you seem to have a much better grasp of who she is and why she is her. I’m not going to say you’ve been flawless these past two years, because I wasn’t there, but I do know Selena is really good at doing things to herself. And it’s not fair for her to be angry at you for not saving her from herself.’ The corners of his eyes creased. ‘That would be like me blaming you guys for not coming after me when I disappeared. Maybe I did need someone to. But I still did it to myself.’
Matt stared at his metal hand, jaw tight. With a furrowed brow he lifted it, and slowly, achingly, he managed to flex it into a fist and then open again. ‘When did we all get so messed up? Was it Scorpius’ death? Or were we too far gone by then anyway?’
‘I don’t know,’ Albus murmured. ‘I do know I… would kind of like us all to be able to stand in a room together and not tear strips off each other.’
‘We don’t need to stand in a room together.’
‘Maybe not.’ Albus shook his head, expression folding up with sadness. ‘But it would be nice if we wanted to.’
Matt gave a bitter laugh. ‘Yes, I’ll hang out with Scorpius, because we were always good mates, and Rose, now, fresh off the breakup -’
‘Okay, point made.’ Albus faltered. ‘I think you did the right thing. With Rose, I mean.’
‘I didn’t just do it for her.’
‘Good. Sometimes we have to be a little selfish.’
‘I think we’ve all been a lot selfish lately.’ Matt bit his lip. ‘I hope she’s forgiven you. I always thought you - you could have helped her.’
‘She came to see me, after you left her. We talked. It was - it was good.’ Albus’ shoulders hunched up. ‘Merlin. We really have fucked each other up.’
‘Each other. Ourselves. Look…’ Matt forced himself to lift his gaze from the desk. ‘I’m sorry for being an arse about you and Saida. Inflicting her on you, I mean. I’d like to pretend it was to make you confront something you needed to confront, as I mean, you seem a lot more relaxed about it right now. But I really didn’t give a shit how bad it was for you. The jobs needed her, and I dealt with it by being a blunt arsehole.’
Albus shook his head. ‘Bygones. I’ve been dealing with a lot of stuff by - well. Isn’t that everyone’s speciality? Making their pain way more important than everyone else’s?’
‘Yeah.’ Matt pinched the bridge of his nose with his good hand. ‘I need to somehow prove to Selena that I’ve stopped doing that.’
‘I’d let her calm down first. I don’t know if Eva’s the right person to talk her through it, but for all of Selena’s issues with Eva, abandonment isn’t on the list. And then you can, I don’t know. Flowers.’
‘You can tell I’m not good with girls, huh?’
Matt laughed, a genuine laugh without mockery, and was rewarded with the corners of Albus’ lips curling self-consciously. ‘I don’t even know. What to do, what we are, what she’ll listen to. She ran a mile and I couldn’t chase her and help Rose, or so I thought, and… when someone locks themselves away, it’s hard to know when you’re helping and when you’re just intruding, you know?’
‘And Selena’s straight-talk can sound a lot like her evasion. Because she’s tricked herself into believing it, so she thinks she is being honest…’
‘Then be honest with her.’ Albus shrugged. ‘That’s all I can suggest. That’s all I think any of us can do. Try to be honest, try to be sorry, and try to not fuck it up again. And… try to forgive.’ He sighed and shook his head. ‘Speaking of, I meant what I said. You were brave as all hell on the rescue mission. Before that, even, on the whole damned quest…’
‘You don’t… bygones.’ Matt shook his head, then his gaze landed on the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘If Selena’s with Eva, I suggest you don’t go see them yet. She’s pretty pissed at you, too, for running off.’
‘I did get that impression from Miranda.’
‘So. In the spirit of trying to be less fucked up…’ Matt reached down to open the drawer and pull out the bottle of his father’s good whiskey, stored there for special occasion, and the two glasses. ‘Drink?’
Eva shuffled through the papers on her coffee table. ‘I can’t believe the Ministry could have oversight of this buyout and there are no clues.’
‘I thought you make a living off counting on the government to be incompetent?’ Selena was under a blanket, hands wrapped around a steaming mug, curled up on the sofa. Once she’d been cleaned up and warmed up, Eva had set to work, else they’d have to make smalltalk and she couldn’t imagine anything she’d like to do less.
‘I try to not underestimate my enemies. And governments get sloppy with lives; they don’t get sloppy with money.’
‘Maybe.’ Selena stretched. ‘There’ll be something here. It’s a good idea. But I’m not an accountant, and I’m tired as hell.’
Eva bit her lip. ‘Alright. Then come by tomorrow morning and we’ll go through it fresh?’
‘Let’s try the afternoon.’ Selena put down the mug and stood, fuzzy blanket in hand, brow furrowed. ‘Look. Saida. Thanks,’ she told Eva’s left ear.
Eva didn’t even try to make eye contact. ‘I needed your expertise.’
‘Yes, but I mean…’ Selena sighed. ‘Yeah, that’ll do, won’t it?’ she said, and turned to the door.
Just as it burst open for Albus Potter to stagger in. He had to catch the door handle to not fall, swaying on his feet, hair messy, gaze unfocused, and his eyes widened as he saw her. ‘Oh! Selena! You’re still here!’
Selena narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Are you drunk?’
‘No. Yes. Maybe. Yes? It’s allowed.’ Albus tilted his chin up defiantly, then ruined the effect by hurrying over to her like an upset puppy. ‘Are you okay? I know you’re all frantic and -’
Despite herself, Eva shuffled over, just in case this turned into an argument as Albus’ sense of diplomacy was smothered under a wave of Firewhiskey. But Selena pressed on.
‘I’m fine, Albus. Just peaky. Obviously not doing as well as you…’
‘I spoke to Matt, and he - and we went through quite a lot of whiskey…’ Albus rubbed his temples. ‘He’s really worried about you…’
‘Worried enough to do something?’
‘You know,’ he slurred, ‘when you tell people you want to be left alone, sometimes they believe you.’
She stopped short at that, and tossed the blanket onto the back of the sofa before looking at Eva. ‘Tomorrow morning. Might be best if it’s just you and me.’
Eva gave a stiff, mute nod, but Albus moved to block the door, big hands raised placatingly. ‘Not what I meant. I mean that he’s really sorry.’
‘Did he tell you to tell me this?’
‘No! No, he doesn’t know I’m here, I thought you needed to know -’
‘I don’t want to hear about Matt.’
‘Then I’m sorry,’ Al blurted. ‘I left you all. And I know there was Rose but it doesn’t mean I didn’t hurt you by leaving.’
Selena’s expression shifted, then set. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, Al. You and I were never close enough for me to go to you.’
‘Then maybe I should fix that.’
She quirked an eyebrow. ‘What are you doing? Boozing with Matt, coming to paw at me for forgiveness? You’ve suddenly decided you need to play supportive keen puppy for everyone, not just Scorpius?’
Albus’ gaze flickered back and forth drunkenly. ‘Pretty much.’
Selena stared at him for a moment, then shook her head and headed for the door. ‘Good night, Al.’
‘He loves you, you know,’ said Albus, then span on the spot and waved his hands. ‘I mean, we love you. We all do.’ Eva tried to back off as she saw Selena freeze in the doorway, and before she could respond, Albus had padded over, brought his hands up to her shoulders. ‘You’re awesome and we love you and we’d have died for you. But I guess you want us to live for you? Maybe not for you, maybe with -’
‘Al, stop.’ Selena turned, lifting a hand to his lips, and they all stopped short for long moment. Eva wondered if she’d need to dive out the window. Eventually, Selena’s shoulders slumped, expression softening. ‘But thank you,’ she murmured, and before he could say anything else stupid, she hugged him.
‘M’sorry,’ Albus mumbled into her hair, but was answered with nothing more than a kiss on the cheek before Selena pulled back.
She looked at Eva. ‘Tomorrow.’
Eva gave a wispy smile. ‘Afternoon.’ Then Selena left, and she was in the room with a drunk Albus Potter. With a sigh, she turned to him. ‘Why are you here in this state?’
Albus cringed. ‘Oh. I wanted to - Matt and I talked about stuff and I figured there was no time like the present, you know?’
‘Like - like Selena. Making things right.’
Eva looked him up and down critically. ‘Are you sure you’re safe to Apparate?’
‘I got Floo’d into the block. Okay. It took me two tries. I really upset a -’
‘You’re not taking yourself home in this state.’
He grinned a broad, silly grin. ‘Did you have any better ideas?’
He must be really drunk. Eva glanced at the window and murmured Arabic curse words. ‘I think you should start with sitting down.’
‘Yeah. Good idea.’ Albus slumped over to the threadbare sofa and fell onto it with a grunt. ‘Unf, this is more comfy than I thought.’
‘As if I needed more proof you’re drunk.’
He lounged back, arms splayed out, eyes fluttering shut. ‘M’just gonna stay here. ‘Til the world stops spinning.’
‘Sure. Sleep on my couch. See if I mind.’
‘You don’t mind,’ Albus slurred.
Eva rolled her eyes, but despite herself she was already moving, retrieving the blanket and sweeping it over him. ‘Yes, because when you think of me, you think hospitable.’
She wasn’t expecting him to move. But his hand shot out to grab hers as she was draping the blanket, and she froze by instinct. His eyes fluttered open. ‘…no. Not the word I’d use.’ His gaze was still bleary, but she’d never found his green eyes anything but piercing, tearing at her masks and control, and even when he was drunk it was no different. ‘I’ve got better words. Better thoughts.’
Eva tried to tug her hand free. ‘You should sleep -’
‘I forgive you, you know.’
She closed her eyes, and when she found her voice it was like it came from far away. ‘You shouldn’t.’
‘Don’t I get to decide that?’
‘I hurt you.’ She forced herself to open her eyes, forced strength into her voice. ‘I’ve hurt others, I’ve killed others -’
‘I can’t change what I did.’
‘Then why are you trying to be different?’
Eva’s throat tightened, and her gaze flickered down, down from his honest bright eyes to the rise and fall of his chest, trying to block out the feel of his hand still holding hers. ‘I suppose I have to try.’
Albus nodded, and squeezed her hand. ‘I want to help you,’ he mumbled. ‘When I’m scared, or hurt, I’m angry at you, but if I’m thinking clearly, I…’
Her heart lunged into her oesophagus, and she yanked her hand back. ‘You’re not thinking clearly right now,’ she said, speaking very fast. ‘You’re drunk, and I - I will get you a bowl and let you sleep.’ He slumped back, lulled into inactivity by the siren-call of whiskey, and so she hurried into the safe house’s kitchenette to find a bowl.
By the time she got back, he was already asleep. And snoring like a freight train.